Are Your Audience Personas Effective? [Podcast Episode]

Amanda Milligan
By Amanda Milligan
January 19, 2021

Many marketers work with audience personas so they aren't creating content without any idea who they're writing for.

 

But how can you make sure you're creating them properly in a way that will improve your ROI?

Digital Marketing Strategist Henry Adaso explains how to keep your audience personas accurate and how to properly use them to improve your content program and increase the value of your work.

 

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In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How to get buy-in for investing time in creating/improving audience personas
  • How to make sure your audience personas are accurate (at any given point)
  • What elements need to be included in your audience personas
  • How to actually put audience personas into action

Related links/resources:

Transcription:

Amanda: Hey, friends, welcome to Cashing in on Content Marketing, I'm Amanda Milligan, the marketing director of Fractl and every week on the show, I interview marketing experts about ways to know the value of your work and get buy-in for your strategies. This week I'm here with digital marketing strategist Henry Adaso to talk about how forming accurate audience personas can boost your ROI and help you get buy-in. Welcome to the show, Henry.

Henry: Thanks for having me, Amanda, glad to be here.

Amanda: And you have a book that, I think when this airs, it will have already been out, so tell us a little bit about this book.

Henry: Yes, so I'm publishing my first book, which is always very exciting, and it's called Content Mapping: Unlocking the Power of Content to Increase Engagement, Leads and Sales. So, the book is entirely about how to develop an almost psychic understanding of the people that you're trying to reach.

Amanda: I can speak from my own personal experience that justifying spending the time and the resources on forming audience personas at some organizations was kind of frowned upon because they didn't know exactly the benefit that it would have. So, can you talk a bit about that? Have you seen that happen to people? Have you seen the struggle to get buy-in or if not, like, what is the value of spending that time on creating good audience personas?

Henry: Yeah, so people will shy away from persona exercises, because it just seems really abstract and it's difficult for a lot of people to quantify the value of personas. But they are incredibly valuable, I've seen that in my own experiences. So, imagine if you had to go give a speech, and you've been preparing for a long time, but you have no idea who you'll be talking to, what they look like, what they care about what they're interested in, that will be a really hard page to give, you may, you might get booed off the stage, right, if you say the wrong thing. So, I think personas help us make our audience real. We can't always hang out with our customers and go through their journeys with them but if we have an understanding of who they are, what they care about, what keeps them tossing and turning at night, what outcomes are seeking, then I think we have a better chance of connecting with them.

Amanda: I think that, just that narrative is a really good thing to bring to leadership or whoever you need approval from. Do you have any other tips for marketers who want they understand the value of it, but they're trying to get buy-in to spend time creating them?

Henry: Yeah, I think it has to start with, what are you trying to accomplish as a brand? So, if you're trying to sell more of your thing, then you absolutely need to know who you need to sell it to. So, I used to sell forklifts, right and the competition decided that they're going to run a campaign and the content of the campaign is centered around how much better their brand was over the competition. When we said, you know, what if we went in a different direction, what if we said, who is this for, and then based on that persona, developed the right messaging for that person? Well, what we found was that there were multiple people involved in the decision-making process, there was a procurement manager who cared mostly about cost savings, and quality. But there was also a project manager or operations manager, who cared mostly about things like efficiency and team safety. So, those were really insightful in that campaign, because we were then able to develop multiple messages, so things like having an ROI calculator for the procurement person, and then highlighting the different ways that that equipment can make life a lot easier for the team while keeping everybody safe, A for the project manager. So, that really resonated with them because we were able to map our content to each persona, but the only way we could get to that outcome was by backing up and trying to understand who we're selling to. So, personas are hugely, hugely useful in making that leap,

Amanda: I think a lot of people assume they already know what those personas are just based on their day-to-day experience but that might not be the full picture, right? Like I've heard people saying that they have dug into the data and actually found, either brand new personas or things about the target audiences they thought they knew that were totally different from what they expected. So, with all that in mind, like how you actually go about creating an accurate audience persona?

Henry: So, it's an ongoing process, you're right, your car needs tune up every now and then, the car that you bought five years ago is not the car that you own today, it's going to need oil change, it's going to need new brake pads, maybe. And people are the same way, right? People will change, people evolve. Data also evolves. So, we can always iterate on the persona exercise and we should look at it as an ongoing process, because we can always find new things. And that's the magic of having personas, is that you can always go back, review your personas and see if there's a new opportunity, or if there's a new persona that you need to be speaking to.

Amanda: I've been telling a lot of people or recommending that especially, we're recording this in December 2020, that now is a good time to check back in on those personas, because so many people's lives have been turned upside down and who knows what people's priorities are now, so I completely agree with what you're saying. So, what are some of those sources that you can go to get information about people?

Henry: So, if you sell to an audience of people who have a group somewhere where they commiserate, or gather to talk about what's going on, in their lives in their industries, that is the most valuable source of data, insight, information around personas. So, you can always look up industry associations, you can look up different social media groups and if people are already talking about a certain topic, that's something that's important to them, especially if they're paying to go to a conference, virtual or not, pre-COVID, to listen to people talk about that topic, that's a very, very urgent and important topic to them. So, that's a good way to find out what your personas really care about. The obvious way is to talk to customers, I mean, you're going to get so much more nuanced information from talking directly with customers than you will from maybe trying to guess at what they really care about. So, talk to customers, look up what social groups they belong to, and then try to understand what topics are top of mind for them.

Amanda: I really like that you brought that up by just listening to those communities that already exists is big, but even just like where they're spending their money, that's kind of like a prioritization method. You're absolutely right. I didn't really think about that. If somebody's spending a lot of money and traveling to get some kind of information, that must be extremely important to them. That's a great point. You mentioned in your book, that you encourage people to pretend to be their personas, why do you recommend that?

Henry: Yeah, so the idea is that we need to take our own medicine, so to speak. Sometimes we can, as marketers develop content in a vacuum, and develop content based on best practices. But until it's actually applied in a real-world scenario, it's very difficult to understand whether or not that content will be effective. But if we can just back up and dramatize our personas, we learn a lot more from that exercise. So, I'll tell you an interesting story, I'll tell you the story of Elizabeth, so we had years ago when I was working on on a client's account, we had a persona exercise, and we developed a persona named Elizabeth and she was senior citizen, had, I think, six or seven cats and we made her as real as possible. She had a daughter that lived about 200 miles away and she lived alone. And months later, I went on a trip to accompany another company to deliver meals to seniors around Houston area and one of the residents that we ran into, there was such a huge commotion that the gate because it was double locked and when she finally got to the gate and unlocked it, we saw about six or seven cats behind her and we started talking to her and we found out that her oldest daughter lived in Dallas, which is more than 200 miles away and she was about the same age as the Elizabeth persona that we had developed. You know, so I joked with my colleague that, hey, you know, we ran into a real-world Elizabeth today and I think that's the power of using that information and that data to create hyper realistic people that look just like the people that you're trying to reach, and I think when we can get to that level of detail, we have a better chance to resonate.

Amanda: Yeah, I think people tend to see audience personas as kind of just like, kitschy really top-level descriptions of people but I like how you describe in the book, and now like, it's almost like a characterization that you would see with creative writing, like really just trying to get into the mind of a different person. I think that's a much better way of looking at it.

Henry: Absolutely, novelists do this all the time. So, they'll go to a town where the story is set, and they'll go hang out at the bar where the character supposedly hangs out. They'll talk to the natives; they'll try to eat the same kind of food. And by putting yourself in that mindset, I think it allows us to develop more empathy.

Amanda: So, what kind of information based on this, like if somebody is actually going to sit down and create an audience persona, you know, the typical things, the demographic information and then probably their biggest challenges or desires? Is there anything else that people should make sure is criteria that gets into this audience persona?

Henry: So, I think you need the foundation and you mentioned some of them, so the demographics, the objections and doubts on their mind, because we want to try to address those things. But we also need to understand the psychographic elements, so what do they believe in? For example, if you're trying to reach someone who is, let's say, a mother, who is looking to buy air purification solutions for the house, because she has a kid who is asthmatic, those are all important pieces of information, the mother, the kid, location, product, but what if she also cares about sustainability and it happens that your product is 100%, organic and sustainable? Well, now you've tapped into something more than demographic, it's belief, it's psychographic and now you're in the sweet spot. So, I think that's one underrated element of the persona building exercise that can really, really help us connect.

Amanda: And that sounds like something you'd have to get by talking to your audience, right?

Henry: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, as much as possible, talk to the people that you're already reaching out to, the existing customer base, just to kind of understand what they care about. But also talk to people that that you're hoping to reach out to. So, yes, I think you get that kind of information, that nuanced information, mostly by talking to people.

Amanda: I love this approach to persona building but how do people keep from getting too in the weeds and creating like 50 audience personas? What is the sweet spot for like number of different personas usually come up with?

Henry: Yeah, it's easy to go crazy with it, right because we can get really excited and just create a whole bunch of personas. But I think you have to prioritize, I think you have to use the 80/20 rule and say, what's the 20% that generates the 80% and how can we get more of them? And that becomes your primary persona. So, who is really driving business right now, for me and how can I keep them happy and attract more people like them? Because at the end of the day, if we're being completely honest, everybody is not for us, everybody is not going to be the right fit for what we have to sell. So, we need to focus on the people that are the right fit and prioritize them. And if somebody comes into our store and says, hey, I want something that you don't offer, we don't say yeah, we can get you that, we send them to somebody else who can give them what they need. That way we can continue to deliver value to the people that we're really reaching out to.

Amanda: Yeah, I think that's a great point. It's not just reaching out to any of your audience. It's seeing, okay, are they advocates of the brand, have they purchased from us many times, are they ideal audience and prioritizing personas like that. I really like that. What I'd like to spend a decent amount of time on is if somebody's listening go, like, yes, I totally get the value of personas, maybe they have them, they want to update them, what have you, how do you go about putting those into action? So, you mentioned earlier that they really help you, kind of hone-in, on what type of content to create, so I guess my question is, are there any other ways you can implement personas, is my first question? My second question is, what are those touchpoints? So, at the very beginning, you're probably saying, okay, who are our persona is and what content do we need to create for them? But is there any other time in the marketing process that you should also be remembering or bringing that back, your audience personas back into the fold to kind of remind yourself and stay focused?

Henry: Yes, both are excellent questions and I'll take the second one first. So, I think sometimes when we start to lose focus of what we're really after or what we're really good at, that's a good time to remember who this is for, and who we're speaking to. So, that keeps us focused, and the more focused we are, the more effective we can be, so that's number one. And to answer the question about implementation, so I used to do an exercise when I worked on the agency side, we had 40 clients and my team, which was a content marketing team who developed personas for all of our major clients and one thing that I like to do to make personas practical, is to print out a picture. So, I literally find a picture and stick that next to the information that we've gathered, and then print that out, and put it somewhere visible. So, it could be on your desk, it could be hanging on the wall. And every time you create content, you can use that as a reminder to stay focused. The other way to implement it is, when you run ad campaigns, a lot of the same information will apply. So, the demographics, the psychographics, all of those things essentially become targeting criteria. And if we've done our job, they translate to social media ads, paid media ads, all kinds of ad channels. So, those are two quick and easy ways we can implement personas.

Amanda: And there have been previous guests on the show who have talked about how when they're trying to get buy in for an idea, people tend to think of like, whether they particularly like something, like oh, yeah, I like that, or I don't like that. And even using the persona, as like you've alluded to this, Henry, or it's we're not creating it for you, though, we're creating it for this persona. And even using those personas once you have them as part of that buying conversation, I just wanted to remind listeners of that, because I think that's extremely powerful. And especially if you have personas like Henry's talking about can go a long way in getting buy-in, have you done something like that, Henry?

Henry: Hugely important and to take ourselves out of that process, right to say to, to leadership or to other members of the organization that this is not for us, this is all about the customer. And I think that's huge in terms of buy-in. It's huge in terms of being more effective with it.

Amanda: Is there a difference between B2B personas and B2C personas?

Henry: They're all human beings. So, I think we have to remember that because we can get too much in the weeds that like you alluded to in the beginning, and sometimes that can limit us from actually gaining traction. So, I always like to remember that we're always selling to human beings, so that's number one. There are differences, of course, one with B2B, one major difference is that you are typically selling into a family instead of an individual. You know, so a family that buys together, maybe stays together. I'm not sure. But that's a huge difference, because what we found is that the more decision makers involved in the process of buying from you, on the B2B side, the lower your chances of selling to them, and it's natural, it is human nature, there are lots of different opinions, different agendas, sometimes people don't have the right authority levels to pull the trigger. So, it becomes a little bit more complicated on the B2B end, because you're selling to a family traditionally, whereas B2C, you're generally selling to one and that one person may have an influencer, someone, a friend, family member who has an opinion, but ultimately, that one has the decision-making power. So, that's a key difference that we have to keep in mind.

Amanda: That's a great point, I didn't think about that. So, when you create these audience personas, and you're coming up with content ideas, I imagine you have to kind of pair it with the funnel, and the customer journey, right? How do you go about doing that?

Henry: Yes, so that's actually the real value is, as you said, pairing the personas and the content with the funnel. One way to remember this is to think of the traditional customer journey as an arc, ARC, so, awareness, research and conversion. So, depending on where people are, they have different needs, they expect different kinds of content, they are different personas with different mindsets. So, someone who is looking for, let's say, a new car, and has just had that thought for the very first time is probably looking to narrow down a list of maybe 10 cars, so they're not necessarily ready to buy right away. So, the best kind of content we can deliver to that person is information that helps them make a more informed decision. Here are the 10 safest cars, rated by whatever agency that you can buy today, right. And then that way, when they finally say, you know what, I've been researching for six months, I'm ready to buy, they're going to give you a call.

Amanda: That's a great framework to connect both of those things. And I like that you talked about that in the book. And we're approaching the end of the episode so I wanted to ask, since your book is about content mapping, if you would mind providing a brief explanation of what a content map is, and what role the personas play in that?

Henry: So, a content map is essentially a framework that allows you to align your content with the customer's journey. So, I talked about the ARC, awareness, researching, conversion process, and I expound on that throughout the book. And what a content map does is it gives you a single point of view where you can look at your content and see if it makes sense for the customer, depending on what they need in that moment. So, this is a framework that anybody can use, whether you're selling product or service, whether you're selling B2C or B2B, you can always use the content map to position your messaging to match up with the intent of your audience, and almost kind of read their mind and sometimes know what they need before they know what they need. So, that's the beauty of it. I'll share one final example that I talked about in the book, so imagine someone who's going through the process of researching solutions for back pain. So, he has lower back pain, and he's looking for solutions. Well, if you're a mattress store, and you have mattresses that have been maybe clinically proven to alleviate back pain, and you have some research and some data to back this up, well, you can help that person identify their need and say, look, that thing that you're looking for, that solution that you're looking for, could be connected to your mattress, so let's take a look at that and see what's going on there. And then that's a way to deliver a different kind of value, help them given name to the thing that they're dealing with and then when they finally have all the information and confidence to go forward, they're going to come to you and say, you know what, you empowered me with information, you looked out for me and I would like to buy a mattress.

Amanda: I love that example because on the top level, you can say if you're trying to sell mattresses just like, here's the best mattress, right, in like a very general sense. This is why our mattress is better than other mattresses, but you're saying there are other challenges that your personas have, and they might not even know that you're the solution to them. And I think persona exercise is so good for that.

Henry: Yes, yes, you know, we have that general content awareness but sometimes people need a little bit more nuance. And I think the opportunities for us to say, hey, for your specific problem, here's what we think can help you and that's real value.

Amanda: I have a question; I don't know if there's a good answer to it so I apologize in advance. But how do you go about determining if your personas are on point? So, is it a matter of maybe your content doesn't seem to be performing as well as you thought, maybe that's one of the things you revisit along with, you know, however, many Other number of things you can look into or are there any other tricks to figuring that out?

Henry: That's a very, very good question and I think it's something that a lot of content marketers struggle with. So, I think if we've done our job, we will see an overall lift in our content marketing metrics. So, engagement will go up, and conversions will go up, we'll sell more, if we've done our job. To get a little bit more specific, we can also look at tagging the content that we've created specifically for personas. In the book, I talk about narrative labels, so we can use a narrative label to understand which personas, which content pieces are driving engagement. So, we develop content for the person who was looking for a mattress, didn't have a name for it and we developed blog posts, emails, let's say, maybe a white paper that shows the link between back pain and your bed, right? So, now we can go and tag all of that content and maybe after 90 days, take a look at it and see what's happened. So, that's a more specific way to measure that piece of content and that persona, to see if it's resonating. 

Amanda: I love that, because then you can compare different personas, maybe you have some that are really accurate, and their content is just doing so much better than some others that need some honing. I think that's a great tip.

Henry: Totally, totally, yeah.

Amanda: Do you see a common mistake people make in creating personas? Is there something that's tripping a lot of marketers up? 

Henry: Oh, that's such a good question. So, we could do a whole episode on this, the big one is when we create personas that we want to see. So, if we have a certain desired customer, then we create that persona to look like, sound like and feel like that customer, so that's a tough one, because it's so difficult to take yourself out of the process but we have to. So, I think we have to take ourselves out of the process and remember that we're not our customers.

Amanda: Awesome. So, at the end of these episodes, I take kind of a left turn and ask a question that's not entirely related to the point of the episode. But for 2021, the theme is creativity, so I like asking, I have so many different guests on the show with different specialties. But I like asking this question, because that can help anybody, which is, how do you stay creative or how do you find inspiration to think outside of the box when doing this type of work?

Henry: I love that question. So, I am an avid reader, I read a lot and I like to, I'm also very curious, so I like to read things that are not related to what I'm doing, and I am always inspired by a lot of different disciplines. I'm a huge music fan, I used to be a music journalist, so I take ideas from music a lot. For example, when I was writing this book, there were pieces of the book, where I kind of looked at as like, almost like songs, you know, so I'll try to, you know, get that inspiration from, bring that inspiration from music over to something like writing. So, that's one way just kind of marrying disciplines and looking around, essentially.

Amanda: Do you read fiction as well, to inspire you for nonfiction?

Henry: I read and write fiction so it's interesting that you asked that because we're recording this in December and I just received the proof for the book and I, you can't see me right now but I'm beaming with smiles because when I looked at it, I was like, this is perfect. Because it looks like a like a fiction novel, right? It's got the kind of cream white paper, it's like, intentionally formatted that way just so it's easy to read and it's like fun and enjoyable. So, I was looking, and I was like, this is perfect.

Amanda: Yeah, I'm such a fiction fan. It's so hard to get me to read nonfiction. And I so much appreciate like, narrative nonfiction, creative nonfiction, or even like you're saying, it's so cool to me that you thought about that even for the design because I just want something that feels more accessible and has more of a storytelling spin to it.

Henry: Yes. I mean, we don't want it to be drudgery, right? If it looks like a textbook and reads like a textbook, back in school doing homework, so yeah, I just try to find ways to tweak things a little bit and make it more interesting.

Amanda: Do you have any book recommendations based on what you've read recently?

Henry: Yes. So, I've been doing a 50-book challenge for the year, and I just read Brene Brown's, The Gifts of Imperfection.

Amanda: I love her, I love her.

Henry: Great book.

Amanda: I've only read Braving the Wilderness so far, so I'll need to check that one out. But I--.

Henry: That's on my wish list. I need to check that one out, I haven't read it yet.

Amanda: That's awesome. No, I'm glad you shouted out Brene.

Henry: Yeah, somebody texted me six pages of the Gifts of Imperfection and I read the sixth page, and I was like, I'm buying this right now. The same day, I was like, I'm buying this right away.

Amanda: Well, if you're interested in checking out Henry's book, I'll make sure to include the link in the show notes so you all can check that out. And Henry, knowing the goal of this podcast, who do you recommend to be a guest on future episodes?

 Henry: Let's see, can I think about that one and get back to you?

Amanda: Of course. Yeah, I know. I put people on the spot with this one. And they're always like, oh, it's such a great question, but they want to think about it. So, no problem at all. And Henry, I am so glad you took the time to be on this show. It was fascinating, and I appreciate you sharing your insights.

Henry: Thanks for having me. This was fun.

Amanda: If you've listened to this and want even more tips, sign up for our podcast newsletter by going to the podcast page on the Fractl website. And if you've learned anything from this show, we'd love it if you'd subscribe on your favorite podcast platform and leave a review. Finally, if you have any feedback, suggestions, ideas, home decor inspiration, winter cocktail suggestions, ways to keep my glasses from fogging while wearing a mask or anything you'd like to share with me, shoot me an email at Amanda@frac.tl. I'm a shameless extrovert who would love to hear from you. Thank you to Sean Kelly for podcast music and editing and to Joao Pereyra for logo design. And thank you, dear listener, I hope you'll join us next time.

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